This salad has made it onto our table twice recently; once to start off a dinner party, another as part of a Middle Eastern meze-style brunch (the latter pictured below - please excuse the phone photograph!). I like this salad because it's spring-fresh, tasty, and the perfect dish to prep ahead. In fact it just gets better the longer the cucumber, tomato, and red onion marinate in the dressing.
It may not be peak tomato season just yet, but our cherry tomatoes are starting to find their authentic tomato-y-ness again and are bursting with sweet flavor. Here, they join some other goodies like oil-cured black olives, red onion, cucumber, za'atar, lemon, and a nutty topping (dukkah) to turn ordinary salad ingredients into something special.
Many cuisines seem to have their version of a tomato salad. The Greek tomato, cucumber, and feta salad, the Middle Eastern tomato and onion salad, and a childhood favorite - my mom's tomato, avocado, and lemon salad - were the inspirations behind the version I'm sharing with you here. I would hardly call this a recipe though. Measurements don't matter. (The loose recipe below reflects this.) So I encourage you to commit to memory this ingredient combo for your next shopping trip, and free-style the assembly. Just make sure to be generous with salt. We don't always think about salting our salads but salt makes vegetables sing! (By the way, if you're trying to watch your sodium intake, here's a little tip. When we properly salt our food at each stage of preparation, the end result will taste robust and flavorful rather than flat and bland. The table salt shaker will no longer be needed. The added salt in our diet - extra salting at the table, processed and packaged chips and nuts, canned soups, beans, etc - is what's dangerous to our health if consumed regularly, not the proper salting we do to flavor fresh, whole foods we cook at home.)
You might can tell that I get excited about salads. I once asked my Aunt Anna what her favorite food was and she said salads. At the time (I was young-ish), you can imagine I was not so impressed with her response. Underwhelmed might be the better adjective. But I've acquired her salad passion. If you believe in the saying, variety is the spice of life, and you appreciate texture, color, and flavor in your meals, then I'll bet you appreciate salads more than the average person as well, and maybe even more than you yourself think. ;-)
But don't let the two spices, dukkah - the nutty topping - and za'atar, discourage you from making this. You're probably familiar with za'atar by now - I've used it in many recipes on the blog. Just search "za'atar" to find them. But give me a chance to introduce you properly to dukkah, then head down to the recipe footnotes for where to find these spices. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice mix - an exotic name for what is a simple blend of spices, nuts, and seeds. Ingredients vary by recipe but sesame seeds, crushed hazelnuts or a mix of nuts, and spices such as coriander and cumin are commonly used. Here is a simple recipe. You'll of course get the most vibrant flavor and satisfying crunch making your own blend, but I don't keep the homemade blend always stocked myself. There's no shame in turning to a good quality store-bought blend. Or even better, skip the store-bought and simply top the salad with toasted sesame seeds and finely chopped/crushed hazelnuts and a pinch of ground cumin and/or coriander.
A Tasty Chopped Salad
Notes: This recipe calls for oil-cured or sun-dried black olives. These are the wrinkly, pruney, oily looking olives that have a buttery, creamy bite and slightly bitter, smoky flavor. They're widely available - we just don't generally call them by their name. I buy them with the pits in, which help preserve their freshness, and throw them into the salad as is. Just be sure to warn guests ahead of time! If you cannot find dukkah, sprinkle over a combination of toasted sesame seeds and crushed hazelnuts and a few pinches of ground cumin and/or coriander.
- 250 gr grape tomatoes
- 1 small red onion (or medium if your onions generally run small and are the size of large shallots)
- 3/4 of a long English cucumber
- Handful of black olives (oil-cured or sun-dried)
- 1/2 - 1 tsp. za'atar*
- Couple generous pinches of salt
- Juice from 1/2 -1 whole lemon
- 2-3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 to 1 firm but ripe avocado (depending on size of avocado)
- 3 Tbsp. dukkah*
- Halve tomatoes, thinly slice onion, and cut cucumber into half-moon slices. Throw these ingredients into a large serving bowl along with olives. Add za'atar, salt, lemon juice and oil. Give it a good toss and set aside to marinate, tossing once or twice more while preparing the rest of the meal.
- Just before serving, slice avocado and gently stir into salad. Top with dukkah and serve immediately.
*Well-stocked grocery stores or Middle Eastern and African markets sell za'atar and dukkah. Amazon carries them both as well. Here in Switzerland, the Fine Food brand at larger Coops also sell them.